Now that I have completed the PPL phase of my training, I thought it would be a good idea to reflect over the past few months and share some of the things that have helped me and might help you on your path to the skies. All of this is quite unique to me and my journey and may not apply to you. I looked around and read various articles, spoke to all kinds of people, some in aviation, some not, and collated all that research to help me and I advise you to do the same.
I’m not much good if I stay up all night and burn the candle at both ends, by setting a good sleep regime from day one helped me make sure I could extract the most out of each day and stay focused after lunch, the hardest time to concentrate. It may vary for you, but I find 8 hours at a minimum works for me, I try to get more most nights though. If I don’t, I’ll hit the wall during the afternoon and just have a harder time focusing all round. If you think you can just run the gauntlet I’d suggest not, if you try and cheat yourself sleep it will all build up and accumulate to something called “sleep debt“, and at some point you will have to repay that loan. Left unpaid it can become a pretty serious problem, trust me, I used to work the back of the clock and many long shifts, so set yourself up right from day one.
Now I’m no angel and I’m hardly an Instagram worthy fitspiration, but I do make sure to have breakfast and lunch. Some days it’s healthier than others I confess, but I always have a piece of fruit as a minimum. Trying to focus and study when hungry just does not work, and using junk food to fill the void never works out well for me, as delicious as it is. Breakfast is a must, of your three meals a day that one definitely sets you up for the day, and when you’re asking a lot of your brain all the time you have to keep the fuel up for it. The breakfast of champions has never led me astray, how many do you do?
5. Desk Fly
Unfortunately planes are expensive to operate, so having the luxury of practicing something over and over again until you nail it, like for example learning to drive, doesn’t extend to aviation. Unless you have stacks of cash which I sadly do not. So what options do you have? Well simulators are one, and although I’ve had a basic FSX setup for a few years I didn’t use it once during my PPL, plus it’s another hit to the wallet. I might end up using it more when the IFR comes into play though.
For now I found the best, cheapest and most simple method recommended to me by many was to “Desk Fly” or “Chair Fly”. Simply sit in your chair at home or wherever, close your eyes if it helps, and focus as if you are flying. Move your hands to where the flaps would be, say the radio calls. Take it seriously and you will see a benefit, if it’s good enough for the Blue Angels then it’s good enough for me. Some pilots also lay out a big circuit pattern/flight plan on the ground and walk it out, use what works for you. If you can, use the actual plane while no one else is on the ground, just hook up a battery cart if you are going to play with the avionics for a while.
If you’re starting on your way to flying then apply for this as soon as you can, processing times can vary and waiting forever and a day can eventually affect your progress, so get on the front foot. Getting a visitor pass and someone to escort you each time gets old real fast. Depending on where you train, standing operating procedures and all that can make it harder, for instance we have a swipe card to access the hangar and computers for checking weather and submitting flight notifications, which you get once your ASIC arrives, so between bugging people to swipe you in and out all time and being escorted each time you go airside, do yourself a favour and apply sooner rather than later.
Same deal as the ASIC, start the process now. There is a fair bit to getting a medical and it can be like opening Pandora’s Box. If you are going commercial you will need a Class 1, which has more requirements and you might need to do extra tests, it’s case by case but you have to provide medical history which can take a while to collect anyway, especially if you have/had multiple doctors like I did from traveling about. Like the ASIC this can hinder your progress, and the last thing you want is to be ready to take the next step, and have your school ready for you to move forward, but still be waiting for paperwork to clear. You will thank yourself for preparing.
Yeah, I don’t think anyone gets particularly excited about studying but good luck without it. I like to pre study as much as I can and have developed techniques that work for me to ensure I can get through the content and understand it, how to study will be different for everyone but for what it’s worth here is my process. I don’t highlight, shock horror I know. I read the chapter, do the review questions and then make notes of what areas I’m not getting, go back over it and hit the questions again. I then take a break, stretch my legs, have a look over the apron, then get back to it. I repeat the process until I’ve finished the textbook, then wall to wall practice exams, taking notes of all the stuff that’s not quite clicking and reference back to the textbook. Once I feel like I’m getting a good grip on it I’ll read ahead and go deeper into the topic, either through other books, talking with Instructors, reading articles on websites like Boldmethod, entering the black hole that is Wikipedia or using resources from the FAA, to name a few.
1. Switch Off
Don’t let it all overwhelm you, easy to say I know, but you have to try and switch off to let your brain cool down and recharge. For me, I’d rather spend more time at school and do all my flying related study, planning and whatever else to avoid bringing it home. That way I strike a clear balance to keep spinning on my axis. I do find it hard to switch off, but by spending time with my amazing partner, family and friends and having some hobbies or projects on the go keeps me in check. It can feel a bit aviation 24/7, but you just have to try and break out of it. I would feel guilty if I did anything non-aviation over the weekend, even watching stuff that was non-aviation made me feel bad. I was just way too immersed, drowning under it all, but I found by getting back to basics like my volunteering in the Rural Fire Brigade which I love, really helped because it lets you put your mind onto something completely different and is quite cathartic.